NBC and Twitter to Team Up on Limited Live Olympics Coverage

If you cannot find a television for big moments during next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Twitter just might have you covered.

NBCUniversal, the Olympics rights holder, and Twitter have signed an agreement to show limited live event coverage, highlights and a daily Olympics show on the social media platform. While the overwhelming majority of the thousands of hours of Olympic coverage in the United States will remain exclusive to NBC’s television channels and digital streaming platforms, the deal is the furthest the company has gone in letting some live video leave its ecosystem.

Each morning of the Olympics, fans will vote on which prime time live event or athlete they want to look in on — for about five minutes or less — that night on Twitter. It could be the final of the 100-meter dash, the floor routine of gymnast Simone Biles or something else. NBC will also produce a daily 20-minute studio show live from Tokyo for Twitter, and increase its production of highlights for the platform.

While other social media platforms often see a decrease in traffic during major sports events, Twitter can see a double-digit increase, according to the company, as fans tweet about the game they are watching. That makes it “an ideal platform for the massive social conversation that occurs during every Olympic Games,” Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics, said in a statement.

In 2016, Twitter paid a reported $10 million for streaming rights to 10 “Thursday Night Football” games. But as digital rights grew more expensive, drew small viewership and were difficult to monetize, Twitter has declined to get into bidding wars and instead decided to become a partner with rights holders like NBC.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

NBC pays handsomely for the Olympics — $4.38 billion for the rights to four Games, including those in 2020 — and puts them at the center of its calendar every two years. Its broadcast channel wins the ratings wars each night of the Games (something NBC never fails to tout) and cable channels like NBCSN, USA and CNBC receive huge viewership bumps as well.

Fans can stream almost every minute of every Olympic event online through NBC’s Olympics website, but only if they already pay for a more traditional television package and sign in through their provider. As limited as NBC’s agreement with Twitter is, it represents both the best bet for those without television to watch the Olympics and for NBC to reach that cord-cutting audience — which skews young — and bring them into the NBC fold.

NBC first signed a live digital rights agreement with Snapchat, for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Snapchat has a larger active user base than Twitter, but it can be difficult to share videos, and users needed to go to its Discover platform to see Olympics coverage.

Olympics advertisers will be able to sponsor the coverage that appears on Twitter, a sales process led by NBC that will help further enmesh big advertisers into the Games and extend NBC’s reach in selling them. NBC and L.A. 2028, the organizing committee for the 2028 Games, recently announced a partnership in which NBC will lead all advertising and sponsorship sales for the next four Olympics, beginning in 2021.

On a conference call this week, NBCUniversal said it expected to exceed $1.2 billion in ad sales for the 2020 Games.

Kevin Draper is a sports business reporter, covering the leagues, owners, unions, stadiums and media companies behind the games. Prior to joining The Times, he was an editor at Deadspin. @kevinmdraper

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